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February 17, 2010

McClain still a top pick

For those who believe that former University of Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain's stock may be dropping for the upcoming NFL Draft, Mel Kiper has as message: You may want to rethink that.

In his latest mock draft, which was released Wednesday, the ESPN analyst had McClain projected in the same spot he's been at the entire offseason, No. 12 to the Miami Dolphins.

"First of all he's a heck of a player and he's worthy of being that high, which is what you have to have at that particular juncture of the first round," Kiper said during a conference call with reporters.

"You have to get a guy worthy of going that high and he's always been regarded since he came out of high school as being an elite player. He has a lot of fire. He has a lot of intensity and passion about the game of football. He sets the tone. He's the leader. He's the guy who gave you that Ray Lewis-type of enthusiasm for the game.

"I think (Miami's Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Bill Parcells will see that in McClain. Obviously, you look at Parcells when he was with the Giants and other places and he loves linebackers who have that type of ability, especially with guys with his kind of size - Carl Banks and those guys."

Starting next week, Feb. 24-March 2 to be specific, McClain will be among 10 former Crimson Tide players going through the meat market known as the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. A good showing will essentially make him a lock for first round of the draft, set for April 22-24.

Kiper has McClain, listed at 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, as the eighth-best overall player on his latest "Big Board," but most believe he'll go between picks 10 and 15. The Butkus Award winner as linebacker of the year made all of the Crimson Tide's defensive calls last season and helped lead Alabama to the national championship.

What started speculation of a potential slide was last week's report by Bruce Feldman, a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, who quoted former Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns scout Daniel Jeremiah of movethesticks.com: "In my opinion, his biggest adjustment is going to be learning how to play off blocks," he said about McClain. "The Alabama DL kept him very clean most of the time. When he did have to take on OGs he failed to use his hands and got ridden out of the hole. Scouts use the phrase shock and shed. That means that you shoot your hands to stall the OG and then free yourself from the block. I watched four games on McClain and didn't see him shock and shed one time. His size and style of play reminds me of (former Auburn linebacker) Karlos Dansby. They both have the same strengths: size, instincts and pass coverage. They also share the same weaknesses: lack of burst/explosiveness and too finesse at the point of attack.

"I think McClain will be a good pro. I just don't put him in the class with the other top LBs to come out in the last three years."

Like Kiper, ESPN colleague Todd McShay has McClain being the 12th selection in his latest mock draft, and wrote: "McClain is NFL-ready with the size, straight-line speed and work ethic to win a starting inside linebacker job immediately."

Both claim that McClain is clearly the best inside linebacker heading in to the combine and that his destination could be directly impacted by what Denver does just before Miami, whether the Broncos select the draft's top wide receiver in Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State. The Dolphins' other big need is wide receiver.

However, McShay has been down on nose tackle Terrence Cody after he showed up to the Senior Bowl weighing 370 pounds. Although the All-American vowed to trim down Kiper isn't nearly as concerned and still considers him a first-round selection.

"The 370 is going to fluctuate with him," Kiper said. "He's going to hit 350, be at 370 and somewhere in between. He's the guy, the clogger, the space-eater and the guy that I think in the first round some teams will target. Some teams will say third or fourth round, but there are a few that could use him, certainly Pittsburgh at No. 18, you go down the line a little bit and San Diego at 28, and somewhere in between there you could see Cody come off the board.

"He's a late first-round pick for that reason and he's the one guy who you aren't going to find with many other players at the defensive tackle, nose tackle spot. There's value with Cody, there's no question about that."

Kiper compares him to Ted Washington or Sam Adams, who both had long careers and won a Super Bowl even though neither did much pass-rushing. Additionally, while Tennessee's Dan Williams has been moving up draft boards because he's improved his ability to get off blocks, he's considered a defensive tackle while Cody is primarily a nose tackle.

Kiper projects Cody going to the Chargers while NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks is predicting No. 30 to Minnesota as an eventual replacement for 37-year-old Pat Williams.

"If everyone was on the same page in this it wouldn't be any fun," Kiper said. "We go back three, four, five years later and see who's right."

As for Tide players in general, Kiper said: "The one who jumps out at you the most is McClain for obvious reasons. I think when you look at (Mike) Johnson he's the underrated one.

"The way he hustles down field, he can pull, he's athletic, he fundamentally outstanding, he has to be a little stronger in the weight room, but a good knee-bender and that's the thing that jumps out at you. Very good knee-bender. For me third round for Johnson, but it wouldn't surprise me if he went mid-to-late second.

"(Javier) Arenas I've liked all along because he's an aggressive corner. He's an instinctive football player. He's a leader out there, competes. Height's a factor against him and the lack of recovery speed. He's an excellent punt-returner, though. Plays a lot faster at times in the punt-return game, just when he's beaten in coverage he doesn't have that catch-up ability. I like him. I'd take him in the third- or fourth-round area.

"There's no question he's going help your team."

Kiper used to project Arenas as a second-round selection but now has Kareem Jackson listed higher, fifth among cornerbacks which would likely make him a second-round pick. He also called running back Roy Upchurch a "nice late-round pick," and in looking ahead to next year listed James Carpenter fourth among tackles.


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